Freshness is the hallmark of any chef. You buy local, you support local farms, you are into sustainability. All things that a chef should be interested in because we all know the fresher the food the better the product. It is why you get up early and obsess over the produce and food coming into your kitchen. Have you ever thought about growing your own produce or herbs? Maybe you do not get the product you want all the time because it is not in season or maybe you want something to be your signature but you cannot get it from your local farmer all the time. It could be time to start thinking about growing your own produce to supplement your regular food intake patterns from your vendors.
It has gotten easier to produce just about any product you want because of the introduction of hydroponic growing. You can, space permitting, grow just about anything you want as long as you can put the work into it. Of course, as a chef, you know all about work. The holidays when people are off you and your kitchen are making money. You love and hate this industry at the same time because of the satisfaction it brings you but the work required and the hours can get grating. However, it is with that in mind that we can definitely tell that extra work does not scare you. A little extra work is worth it if the product ends up being good and up to your standards. The same reason that Chef Morimoto is taking brown rice and making his own sushi rice by processing it by hand. Integrity of flavors and passion is the name of the game. If you want a fresh strawberry in the dead of winter then you can grow it thanks to the help of modern technology like LED lights, hydroponic growing methods, and the like. It does not have to be summer because you can mimic summer all year round with the right equipment.
We, as trained chefs, love our rolling racks. We put our food on them and we move them around. The truth is that many of these racks, modified, would be perfect to grow our own produce in and still have the mobility to pull it towards a station where things will be used. Of course, there is always mise en place, but it is nice to move it to a place where it a component be easily accessed if you start running out of it at your station. You know that getting that restocked as quickly as possible is essential and getting to other items that are running out is important. Rolling racks just might be the thing you need to make sure that your kitchen runs efficiently while still growing the product you need to make the best dish you can possibly make in the kitchen.
What about volume?
If you are growing an herb or some other type of product with the intention of serving people then you are probably going to have to plan to have enough for everyone, within reason. How do you do that with the limited space you have, especially if you are trying to use most of your room to create another table so that you can fit extra seating in your restaurant. One table setting can make a huge difference in your business at the end of the year or even your monthly take-home vs bills ratio. The answer is what most New Yorkers know. You build up. You start developing vertical grow racks. You do have to be mindful of what your state says about how high you can grow product but, most of the time, if you are going for volume of a product then you want to grow your product higher because it does not take extra seating away from you. Your sous chef and staff can still move around. Things are produced at a good clip and you are making money. You also have as fresh as can be food because it is coming straight from your kitchen. You can, in a pinch, supplement gaps of production from your regular farmers or vendors because you may have planned to grow it yourself as a back-up in case they could not meet the demand. In short, you have options all because you made the smart choice of growing your own produce or herbs.
What to watch out for when using these racks
The vertical growing racks, if you choose the bigger ones, are not as mobile as the mobile rack systems. The mobile rack systems can be also used to grow products higher but you have to keep in mind that these are not small either. If you are going to make a system where they have the led lights, hydroponics, have enough volume to support hungry customers, and so forth, then you are going to want them to be sturdy. They may not be as small as you would like, say, that chrome rack you have been using to transport your produce or meat around your restaurant. However, they will grow the items sufficiently as long as you have your methods dialed in and in a way that will give you enough product to make it worthwhile, while possibly charging more because of the scarcity of the item involved. It really depends on the size of your restaurant and how you want it run. Although, if you are looking for a way to blow away your competition and put out high-quality food then marketing that you grow much of your own food may be the edge you need.
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